During the day of Sept. 11 and the days that followed, the men and women of MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) worked tirelessly to help bring the city back to some form of normalcy. In the hours immediately after catastrophe struck, however, the uppermost concern was to lend as much help as possible to the rescue effort — both men and machines. Within an incredibly short period of time, NYCT mobilized its forces from around the city and began converging on ground zero.
Equipment, including cranes, front-end loaders, dump trucks and truck-sized mobile generators, were all sent to the scene of the disaster. Transit also sent truckloads of small equipment — face masks, vests, flashlights — to the scene. Within that movement were five blocks of heavy equipment and 3,500 transit employees, all ready, willing and extremely able to do their parts.
The rescue effort was an unprecedented one, with NYCT employees working in hellish conditions alongside firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers and military personnel. Fires were still burning, the area was thick with smoke and the towering piles of rubble were extremely unstable. During the initial three days, many of the ironworkers seen cutting steel beams were transit employees working to clear the way so that firefighters could free trapped victims. Most of them found themselves laboring through triple shifts in a Herculean effort to move thousands of tons of rubble in the hope of finding any sign of life.
Aside from workers involved in the rescue effort, an army of employees from stations, infrastructure, hydraulics and electrical were on duty in the heart of the financial district working to remove from the subway system the dust and debris generated by the massive collapse.
“We had a lot of exhausted people, who just refused to stop and take a rest,” says NYCT President Lawrence G. Reuter. “Many of them worked around the clock in the early days of this tragedy. They were either at the site participating in the rescue effort, guiding our customers around changes in service or back in the office working on new service plans and customer information materials. I am extremely proud of the effort put in by everyone at NYCT.”
A first-hand view
Scores of NYCT employees located in offices in lower Manhattan witnessed the events unfolding from just blocks away. They were evacuated from their building in the wake of the first impact.
It was not lost on anyone that there would be casualties, but the staggering number of victims left all stunned. Compounding the sorrow and resolve of transit employees was the knowledge that hundreds of first responders — firefighters, NYC and Port Authority police officers and emergency medical technicians were among the missing.
Despite the horror of the events covered by the television news, for many at NYCT one early scene stood out — the operator of a soot-coated NYCT bus accepting as many passengers as he could fit into his vehicle so that he could carry them out of harm’s way. He was one of scores of NYCT bus operators who filled their buses and then carried their passengers to safety.
However, there were also a lot of scenes that didn’t show up on television. Rapid Transit Operations and Stations employees quickly moving trains into stations and evacuating customers, conductors working hard to keep riders informed of developments. Hundreds of employees were giving out information at street level and scores of transit employees, both below and above ground, took charge of the situation, putting their safety at risk to protect civilians. Also, with regular communications all but cut off, transit’s telephone communications technicians worked at the scene to run temporary phone lines for the emergency services.
NYCT’s Public Affairs Department was staffed 24 hours a day, providing information to newspapers, radio and TV stations around the world.
The work was supported by the employees of MetroCard Operations, who produced subway maps for both the Website and distribution to stations. The department also provided printed service information updates.
On several occasions since the incident, Reuter has taken the opportunity to praise the work done by NYCT employees. “Under remarkably difficult conditions, NYCT employees continued to move New York City while thousands of our coworkers were at the disaster scene trying to find survivors and helping to return the city to life,” he says.
While none of us will ever forget the Sept. 11 attack on our city, we will also remember how NYCT employees moved quickly and unselfishly to help save lives and keep the city moving. As the rebuilding effort gets underway, NYCT will be there, too.